ASTRON & IBM Center for Exascale Technology

DOME Milestones 2012-2013

DOME Milestones 2012/13

Algorithms & Machines (P1)

The project ‘Algorithms and Machines’ is DOME’s umbrella domain, steering and combining research and results from the other project lines. Its aim is to investigate the enormous complexities found in today’s computer systems and machinery design, as well as lead to the development of a new ‘tool’ to benefit vast technical projects, such as the SKA PathFinder. The 'tool' is a method directed at analysis and evaluation of the performance, power consumption, reliability and cost of a computing system. It will give insight into desirable computer architectures and algorithms.

The first step, to perform a retrospective analysis on LOFAR, was completed in December 2012. Two investigations were published: Analyzing LOFAR station processing on multi-core platforms at ICT.OPED, October 2012, Rotterdam, the Netherlands and LOFAR Retrospective Analysis – Analyzing LOFAR station processing at CALI, December 2012, Cape Town, South Africa.

SKA (Square Kilometre Array) system design, using the new tool, began in March 2013. This was followed in July with the first release of the tool, available in shared collaboration space between ASTRON and IBM.


Extrapolating LOFAR compute analysis: how do the computational requirements (in tera operations per second) of a telescope scale with the number of telescope stations 

Extrapolating LOFAR compute analysis: how do the computational requirements (in tera operations
per second) of a telescope scale with the number of telescope stations

Access patterns (P2)

In March 2012, key targets and criteria were defined, in order to tackle high storage demand and introduce ‘smart storage analytics’. A document outlining the remaining requirements was filed in April 2013.

In addition, a report addressing the need for storage system modeling, access pattern analysis and successful linkage with existing storage techniques was published in September 2012.

Algorithm design for access-pattern-optimised storage was presented in a joint team meeting in March 2013.

Nano photonics (P3)

The Uniboard is a sophisticated, multi-purpose DSP (digital signal processing) board to be used in a range of radio astronomy applications. Evaluation of the integration of IBM optical links was concluded in December 2012, with the filing of a qualification report by ASTRON.

Avago MicroPOD photonic connector, capable of very fast data transport (48x10 Gb/s), to be used in the next generation signal processing board, UniBoard2 

Avago MicroPOD photonic connector, capable of very fast data transport (48x10 Gb/s),
to be used in the next generation signal processing board, UniBoard2


Microserver (P4)

Integration between ASTRON and IBM teams, to focus on microserver architecture, was announced in March 2013. The aim is to study and assess the capabilities and algorithms that can determine parameter space. These findings may prove to be useful within the development of the vast SKA project.

In April 2012, the IBM Zurich laboratory established HLD (the High Level design) and identified two companies to develop the first hardware. IBM will begin this work. Moreover, three pieces of code received from ASTRON will be analysed on IBM’s microserver test machine.

Prototype microserver board designed by DsignWorx Hoogeveen placed on a test-board 

Prototype microserver board designed by DsignWorx Hoogeveen placed on a test-board


Accelerators (P5)

In November 2012, experts from ASTRON and IBM came together to discuss key features of the accelerators and agree a focus for the remainder of the work-stream.  Following this, specialized collaboration between ASTRON and IBM was announced in January 2013, with the aim to bring together and develop cooperation within the areas of algorithms and accelerators.

March 2013 DOME team meeting at ASTRON Dwingeloo, discussing progress amongst colleagues from ASTRON, IBM-ZRL, IBM-NL, and SKA-South Africa 

March 2013 DOME team meeting at ASTRON Dwingeloo, discussing progress amongst
colleagues from ASTRON, IBM-ZRL, IBM-NL, and SKA-South Africa




Crossing borders at Target conference

Hanno Holties, system engineer at ASTRON, is responsible for the LOFAR long-term archive. He was present at this year’s Target conference: Probing Big Data for answers. According to him, it is not only inspirational to step out of our labs and offices and see what others are doing. It also makes scientific and commercial sense.


TARGET conference poster 

TARGET conference poster



The start of something good

”This conference was about sharing knowledge and joining forces in order to meet common goals”, Holties says. “I’ve had interesting conversations with Target partners, but also with ICT-players who are not part of Target yet. For instance, promising relations have started between Target and IBM’s research labs in Zürich. They could make a valuable contribution by joining Target’s involvement in the beta phase for LTFS EE tape storage.”


Hanno’s favourites

“I thoroughly enjoyed hosting a splinter session on data-intensive astronomy, where scientists, engineers and policy makers came together. But I was also able to see many interesting presentations by others.” Here are a few of Hanno’s favourites:

-      CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, on how they deal with storage and the international dissemination of large quantities of scientific data;

-      IBM Research Zürich, about new ways of storing and why they require new data architectures;

-      Introductory presentations by Jacob de Vlieg (eScience Center, Amsterdam), Peter Doorn (DANS, Data Archiving and Networked Services) and Marco de Vos (ASTRON). They provided context and future outlook, also in terms of valorization. How do various lines of research translate into benefits for society?


What is Target about?

Target, which is based in Groningen, is one of the largest public-private projects in the Netherlands concerning big data. It brings together science, commerce and policy. Target’s central questions are: how do we develop intelligent information systems that can manage, preserve and extract knowledge from a deluge of data? And how do we run such a system efficiently, reliably and sustainably?


Why is ASTRON involved?

Among other things, Target has helped in creating and testing the architecture design for LOFAR’s long-term archive. This is where many petabytes of astronomic data are stored, analyzed and re-accessed. The Target platform provides a playing ground to study how data files can be moved automatically between different types of storage tiers, based on the access patterns the system detects. With massive amounts of data being generated daily, LOFAR is a natural pathfinder for SKA when it comes to technical and practical issues of storage and analysis.

Hanno Holties, ASTRON workstream leader Access Patterns 

Hanno Holties, ASTRON workstream leader Access Patterns


See for more info on the conference, held in April 2013. To learn more about Target, visit .




Square Kilometer Array (SKA) South Africa, a business unit of the country's National Research Foundation, is joining the DOME user platform.

SKAWhen the SKA is completed, it will collect Big Data from deep space containing information dating back to the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago. The aperture arrays and dishes of the SKA will produce 10 times the global internet traffic, but the power to process all of this data as it is collected far exceeds the capabilities of the current state-of-the-art technology.


As part of the global effort to solve this unprecedented challenge, last year, ASTRON and IBM launched a public-private partnership called DOME, to develop a fundamental IT roadmap for the SKA. The collaboration includes a user platform where organizations from around the world can jointly investigate emerging technologies in high-performance, energy-efficient computing, nanophotonics, and data streaming. This user platform is ideal for SMEs, international academia and scientific institutes and other valuable partners to collaborate and draw experiences from this unique project. Through its SKA South Africa unit, the National Research Foundation is now a user platform partner in DOME.


"The DOME collaboration brings together a dream team of scientists and engineers in an exciting partnership of public and private institutions. This project lays the foundation to help the scientific community solve other data challenges such as climate change, genetic information and personal medical data," said Simon Ratcliffe, Technical Coordinator, DOME-South Africa.


Scientists from all three organizations will collaborate remotely and at the newly established ASTRON & IBM Center for Exascale Technology in Drenthe, the Netherlands. More specifically, scientists from SKA South Africa will focus on the following research themes:


  • Visualizing the challenge—fundamental research will be conducted into signal processing and advanced computing algorithms for the capture, processing, and analysis of the SKA data so clear images can be produced for astronomers to study;
  • Desert-proof technology—the DOME team is researching and prototyping microserver architectures based on liquid-cooled 3D stacked chips. The team in South Africa will extend this research to make the microservers rugged or "desert proof" to handle the extreme environmental conditions where the SKA will be located; and
  • Software analytics—the 64 dishes of the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa will be used for the testing and development of a sophisticated software program that will aid in the design of the entire computing system holistically and optimally—taking into account all of the cost and performance trade-offs for the eventual 3,000 SKA dishes.


"The DOME research has implications far beyond astronomy. These scientific advances will help build the foundation for a new era of computing, providing technologies that learn and reason. Ultimately, these cognitive technologies will help to transform entire industries, including healthcare and finance," said Dr. Ton Engbersen, DOME project leader, IBM Research. "For example, we are designing a system for storing information that learns from its interactions with the data and parcels it out in real time to the storage medium that's most appropriate for each bit, which can also be applied to medical images."


"DOME is not only innovating in the laboratory, but our user platform is setting a new standard in open collaboration," said Dr. Albert-Jan Boonstra, DOME project leader, ASTRON. "In addition to SKA South Africa, four additional organizations are expected to join in the coming weeks including universities and small and medium-sized businesses located in the Netherlands."



A royal invitation

On 28 May, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visited Dwingeloo, on their tour of Groningen and Drenthe. A big, strategically positioned photograph caught the king’s eye. “Ah, how nice to see a picture of my grandmother here.” ASTRON’s Peter Bennema was there to explain: “Yes, this is your grandmother in 1956, for the official opening of our radio telescope. The great dish is now being renovated and it would be an honour to have a royal hand push the buttons once again, for its re-opening.” According to Mr. Bennema, his royal highness was definitely interested. “You know the procedure”, Willem Alexander said. We will make sure the official invitation goes through all the proper channels.


For the original 1958 news item on the opening of the radio telescope (in Dutch), click


 Queen Juliana opening the Dwingeloo telescope

Queen Juliana opening the Dwingeloo telescope



King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visiting Dwingeloo

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visiting Dwingeloo



IBM key player visits ASTRON

ASTRON regularly opens its doors to international visitors. On 30 May, we had a special guest by the name of Kevin Reardon (IBM global business development). Among other things, he has looked into the merit that science alliances like DOME may have for IBM’s investment portfolio and research business development. Mr. Reardon came to the Netherlands for a three-day tour, meeting a number of representatives from Dutch academia, politics and business. He was welcomed by our managing director Marco de Vos and scientific director Mike Garrett and got a grand tour of the ASTRON premises and projects.


Kevin J Reardon, IBM VP Corporate Business Development, announcing the IBM faculty award granted to prof. M. Garrett 

Kevin J Reardon, IBM VP Corporate Business Development,
announcing the IBM faculty award granted to prof. M. Garrett


Prize-winning management

Kevin Reardon did more than just listen. He also turned out to be the bearer of very good news, when he announced that ASTRON’s very own Mike Garrett, who had been nominated for an IBM faculty award, has actually won this prestigious prize. Mr. Garrett, who doubles as scientific director at ASTRON and professor at the astronomy faculty of Leiden University, will receive the award later this year.


In good company

Also present during Mr. Reardon’s visit were professor Peter Apers, who is one of the Dutch government’s two topsector advisors for ICT, and both of DOME’s scientific directors: Ton Engbersen from IBM and Albert-Jan Boonstra from ASTRON.


Visiting the WSRT radio telescope

Visiting the WSRT radio telescope, from left to right:
Einar Uboe (IBM), Albert-Jan Boonstra (ASTRON), Kevin Reardon (IBM),
Martijn Hassink (IBM-Nl), Ton Engbersen (IBM-ZRL),
Ard van der Tuuk (member of the Provincial Executive), Wim van Cappellen (ASTRON),
Alexander Brink (IBM-NL), Peter Apers (University of Twente)





NWO funding announcement puts DOME's Accelerators stream on the fast road to success!

April 2013: The Nederlandse organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) recently approved the two year post-doctorate proposal ‘Radio-Astronomical Signal-Processing Algorithms for Many-Core Processor Architectures’ of Dr. John Romein, also referred to as Triple A (for Astronomical Algorithms on Accelerators).

The prestigious subsidy award is from the NWO Vrije Competitie (Free Competition) project. The NWO is a Dutch scientific organisation that provides research funding. The organisation is a driving force in Dutch science, supporting research projects and maintaining an infrastructure to manage national and international knowledge. Dr. Romein is a Senior System Researcher at ASTRON and, for nine years, worked on the development of High-Performance Computing software for LOFAR. Through the DOME project Dr. Romein has returned to a more research-orientated environment.

Dr. Romein's research team will explore the possibilities and opportunities offered by different Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) to assist, improve and optimise the processing of radio-astronomical data. A GPU is a specialised processor designed to accelerate the creation of images for output to a display. GPUs are used in embedded systems, mobile phones, personal computers, workstations, and gaming consoles. In general, GPUs are powerful and energy efficient, but have the disadvantage of being difficult to program. With this in mind, the team will seek to answer the technical questions of which existing architectures are efficient and why, as well as examine the different properties of various GPUs. The early stages of research were initiated three years ago at ASTRON. However, the NWO support will enhance the research, bringing it to a new level and creating a fully fundamental research setting. A major aim of the NWO funding is to increase the available manpower and enable the recruitment of top-level researchers.

 John Romein, ASTRON workstream leader Accelerators

John Romein, ASTRON workstream leader Accelerators


The DOME project has seven streams. The stream of P5 'Accelerators' is most closely associated with the research of Dr. Romein, although strong overlaps can be found in the streams P1 'Algorithms and Machines' and P7 'Real-time Communication'. This makes the research of high value and advantageous to DOME as a whole.